Editor’s Note: This is PART II of a TWO-PART series that looks at fascist economics in the age of Donald Trump. To read PART I, please click here.
America’s “Third Way”
While Mussolini and Hitler institutionalized their economic vision by encapsulating employers and workers within state-controlled “corporations,” President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” offered a solution that maintained the structural independence of business and labor. In the American model, worker organizations such as American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the socialist and communist Workers Alliance, founded by The Socialist Party of America, retained autonomy in continuing their class struggle with business. Congress empowered organized labor by passing the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA, 1933) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, 1935). Despite Republican complaints, this legislation memorialized the right of private-sector employees to form unions, bargain collectively with employers, and to strike. Employers responded by vigorously resisting workers’ organizing activity at every turn. In order to reduce business interruptions created by a reinvigorated class conflict, Roosevelt’s New Deal established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB provided a democratic method for recognizing unions and determining their membership. Thus, America’s “Third Way” legislated a democratic process to effectively and efficiently manage class conflict.
With the Cold War, the New Deal framework to manage class conflict unraveled. During the 1950s, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), began purging New Deal socialists and communists from government. Leveraging the burgeoning Red Scare against labor unions in 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act removed communists from union leadership by requiring non-communist affidavits from all potential union leaders. Thus, Taft-Hartley targeted the socialist ideology that could engender that working-class consciousness required to marshal collective political power. Taft-Hartley’s solution to Mussolini’s “Third Way” challenge was to squelch workers’ freedom of political expression, and curtail organized labor’s freedom of action, including prohibiting wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, and closed shops. President Harry Truman’s “Fair” Deal significantly dismantled the New Deal structure designed to manage class conflict within an institutionalized “even playing field” for the benefit of both capitalists and workers.
We cannot review the entire history of the decline in American unionism here. Suffice it to recall that, since the slowing of America’s post-war economic boom, the capitalist dismantling of the New Deal government-managed class conflict intensified. The banning of socialists and communists from union leadership left a power vacuum wherein a new union leadership style emerged. The new leadership saw unions not as the vehicles for class struggle, but only as institutions that would resolve workplace disputes. As a result, the rank-and-file increasingly perceived their leaders as self-serving bureaucrats who did not fully appreciate workers needs.
The result of this legislated weakening of worker’s rights, the removal of socialists and communists from union leadership, and the rise of a bureaucratic unionism was a rapid decline in union membership from a rate of around 20 percent in 1983 to 12 percent in 2015. The rise of a dog-eat-dog Neo-liberal economics, since Reagan, and the Citizens United ruling by SCOTUS, that gave corporate “citizens” privileged and overwhelming political power, delivering the ingredients for today’s worker malaise which led to Donald Trump’s election.
American Neo-Fascism: The New Social Contract
As the slogan “All Lives Matter” epitomizes aversive racism, capitalists display an aversive Neo-liberalism by celebrating themselves as “responsible” corporate “citizens.” Trump’s nationalist Neo-liberalism and the stroke of a marketer’s pen have delivered the myth of the “American Dream” into the hands of business and the corporate media. Neo-liberalism invites workers to dismiss worker solidarity, class struggle, and the power of organized labor.
With the Trump Administration, the future healthfulness and safety of workers, which was Constitutionally protected, becomes the purview of business plans that primarily serve the business profits. Trump’s selection of the wealthy and anti-worker business person Andrew Puzder as his Secretary of Labor provides no solace to workers. Trump intends to accommodate corporate responsibility by removing regulatory protections covering food safety, the climate, and environmental pollutants. Watching their planet melt from global warming, economically precarious workers are left to enjoy their pursuit of happiness between intractable fights for a living wage, paid family leave, and access to quality health care. For valued technical workers with college degrees, corporations promise comfortable wages and benefits, Holacratic management, and diversity programs touted by the Human Rights Campaign. Capitalists thus convince prized workers that Northrup-Grumman, Goldman Sachs, and Shell share their concern for personal and humanitarian rights; as drones kill children in Afghanistan, Wall Street speculation raids pensions, and sea-level rise consumes what is left of America’s oceanfront commons. In this way, capitalists further divide and thereby disempower workers.
Given today’s sophisticated computer technology, the state no longer needs fascist corporations to manage disgruntled workers. Instead, Trump has post-9/11 legislation and the mass surveillance capacity of the National Security Agency to track and persecute labor organizers, and supposed “professional protesters,” and economic “terrorists.” Courageous workers who expose animal abuse and unhealthy production practices in the meat industry know how worker activism can become terrorism, in this case by a stroke of George W. Bush’s pen under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). It is unsurprising that Trump’s Washington State campaign’s deputy director Sen. Doug Ericksen proposed legislation that would make it a felony for protesters to block transportation and commerce, damage property, threaten jobs and endanger public safety. Within Trump’s futuristic cyber-society, the physical confinement of labor leaders in concentration camps morphs into a snare of “anti-terrorism” legislation, “big data”, and predictive analysis.
In addition, Trump, the futurist, is already demonstrating an impulsive expediency in international economic dealings. Even before his inauguration, he struck a deal with United Technologies (UT) to keep 1000 Carrier jobs from moving to Mexico. In return, Trump promised UT significant financial incentives and regulatory relief for which American taxpayers will ultimately pay. If this deal has any “art” in it, it is that Trump was able to co-opt the pro-worker efforts and political thunder of United Steelworkers union president Chuck Jones for his own political advantage. Not only did Trump finagle Jones into allowing him inject himself into labor negotiations to which he was not a party, he got Jones to thank him for it: “I want to give President-elect Trump credit. He got involved in the Carrier situation and was able to negotiate with UTC to save 800 jobs. Big hand, gratitude goes out to him.” Trump is not satisfied leaving the fate of workers to the mechanics of Mussolini’s corporations. His New Way simply involves the president negotiating directly with capitalists to offer scraps to the workers, completely ignoring increasingly enfeebled and disconnected labor union establishment.
Trump’s recent unprecedented, off-the-cuff phone call to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen also suggests in the words of Zhang Baohui, professor of international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, that Trump, “is a businessman, and he could be bringing his business bargaining tactics to interstate relations.”
Trump’s Neo-fascism offers a novel approach that entirely removes class-struggle consciousness and the rights of workers from the economic operational equation. The continuing weakening of unionism and the pervasive worker docility engendered by a fear of employer and government retaliation to labor activism eliminates the need for Mussolini’s corporations. American workers, now largely indoctrinated to the Neo-liberal dog-eat-dog worldview, have lost that moral impulse for resistance which the socialist critique inspires. They remain isolated, defenseless, desperate, and increasingly politically impotent.
Trump’s economic vision is not Rand Paul’s laissez-faire libertarianism. While Trump favors the libertarian programs of privatization and deregulation, he artfully offers a new deal to business: the plutocratic capitalist state. While Trump’s economic Neo-fascism pays lip service to the American myth of democratic exceptionalism, only the state and the capitalist class strike this new social contract. This new governance brands itself, not as the rapacious and violent nationalism revealed at Trump campaign rallies, but as a cool-handed business management model; wherein the President becomes the CEO of CEOs. In the parlance of the mafia, with which Trump has done significant business, he becomes the capo di tutti capi, the “boss of bosses.”
The Promise and Struggle Continue
In his Second Inaugural, Franklin Roosevelt explained his vision for how America might fulfill the promise of the original Bill of Rights; his famous but endangered “Second Bill of Rights.” Trump’s oath on the Bible and before the Republic’s flag will herald America’s grand experiment with Neo-fascism. This Neo-fascism will remove the protection of workers’ rights from the public commons that is its democratic governance. Sinclair Lewis was prescient, but he missed one point. Neo-fascism has come to America wearing the Flag, and carrying a cross. However, it also bears a game of Monopoly, with rules set by Donald Trump. Capitalists will now not only manage the “bank,” but also disperse Community Chest cards to disempowered workers who will not pass go, collect $200, or buy property; but only throw the dice every four years and go directly to jail.
This essay does not intend to settle the question about whether Trump is a fascist or a Neo-fascist. That debate will likely rage on as the Trump Administration reveals its handiwork over the next four years. It only offers the hypothesis that Trump’s nationalist Neo-liberal ideology underlies a new operational form of fascist economics. American Neo-fascism does not place the state and its nascent Duce at the pinnacle of power. Rather, it manifests capital and the state as exclusive negotiating partners, with American workers uninvited to the table. Trump’s Third Way provides for the general welfare of American workers by advertising a feigned concern for their needs, while bargaining exclusively with business for the sole benefit of business.
Karl Marx explained that the anticipated socialist revolution would occur in the most capitalistically mature nation. He looked to England, but history did not accommodate him. Perhaps history will be kinder to Che Guevara, who explained that, “While envisaging the destruction of imperialism, it is necessary to identify its head, which is no other than the United States of America.” This essay proposes a Marxist perspective that can support effective socialist labor activism. Understanding Trump’s operational economic vision can help activists show the structural aspects of worker oppression, thus supporting more effective organizing and political resistance. It can expose aversive Neo-liberalism in the corporate media that justifies privatized security violence against Water Protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, corporate and government violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights, and the capitalist rape of the remaining public commons. It can also help to instill within workers a solidarity that is essential for socialist revolution by establishing in the American political consciousness a central ethic: that only an enlightened and beneficent democratic governance can insure “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”